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What Video File Formats Are and Which Is Best

Even if you’ve never edited video, you probably know a little about video formats – for instance, that the format of a movie or clip can be easily determined from the file extension of the stored recording. You must’ve also heard that video recordings are sometimes converted from one format to another. Want to know more? You’re in the right place! In this article, we’re going to tell you about various popular video formats and the differences between them. We will also give you some practical advice on how to choose the right format in which to store your videos.

What Is a Video Format?

A video file format is the structure in which a video recording is stored in a computer’s memory, on a disc, or other digital media. A format consists of two parts: a container in which the recording is stored and a codec used for processing the sound and image. Confused? Let’s clear things up!

What is a container?

To answer this, let’s examine the process of recording a video on a digital device (video camera, mobile phone, or any other device). These devices record audio and video as different streams, encoding each of them with a special program called a codec. Both streams are then compressed into a special file – the container – where they are provided with a description. This description enables a media player to correctly synchronize the image and sound when playing the recording.

What is a codec?

A codec is a program that does the coding of large amounts of data and renders them uncompressed during playback. There are specific codecs for each data type: audio, video, etc. Learn more about codecs here.

What Are the Common Video Formats?

Let’s take a look at a few popular video file formats and learn from how their differences are examined and explained.


This is one of the first successful formats developed by Apple and natively used by the company’s QuickTime Player. MOV supports a wide range of codecs for compressing movies and other video files. It is also compatible with both Mac and Windows PC as well as iOS-based devices like iPhone and iPad.


Short for “Audio Video Interleave,” AVI is one of the oldest and most popular multimedia formats, in which a video file’s data are stored in tagged “chunks.” It was originally introduced by Microsoft as part of its Video for Windows technology. Because of its simplicity, AVI is supported by all Windows-based and dozens of Android-based devices, game consoles like Xbox and PSP, and many computer operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.


A derivative of the QuickTime File Format, MP4 has quickly become almost a universal standard for sharing videos on the Internet and elsewhere. MP4 provides a nearly lossless compression algorithm and a higher quality than most other formats. It is also accepted by virtually all computers, phones, TVs, and DVD players from Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Lenovo, and other manufacturers.


The FLV, or Flash Video, format is mainly used to deliver online video content via Adobe Flash Player. FLV video files maintain high quality even after being compressed to tinier sizes, which allows users to load online videos faster. Since the player is installed in nearly all browsers, FLV is supported by many video-hosting websites like YouTube, Hulu, VEVO, and many others.


Another format developed by Microsoft, WMV was originally positioned as a competitor to RealVideo. WMV files are among the smallest video files on the Internet, though their quality is often lower because of the significant decrease in size after lossy compression. The key app for playing WMV is Windows Media Player, available on all Windows-based platforms as well as Mac OS X.


While conceptually similar to other containers like MP4 and AVI, the Matroska Video (MKV) format differs in that it’s entirely open source. MKV can include an unlimited number of video and audio tracks and features such as multilingual subtitles in one file and has now become the preferred format for HD video on the Web.

Which is the Best Video Format to Choose?

Video formats differ a lot in the contents of a container file. Some, AVI for instance, can include multiple audio tracks and subtitles; others, like MKV, let you pack in everything you need: video and audio tracks, animated and text subtitles, fonts, and more. Formats also differ in that each of them works only with a specific list of audio and video codecs.

These two fundamental differences lead to many others: file size, video resolution, ability to play online videos, etc. Certain formats yield superior picture and sound quality, while others are able to provide only the basics. However, there’s no definite answer to the question “which video format is the best?” The answer depends on the specific device on which you’re going to watch a clip or movie; the best format might be the most readily available, the most compressed, or the one with the highest quality.

Choosing the format in which to save videos for your device depends on what you want to do:

I want to upload videos online

For YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, use MP4 with H.264 and AAC codecs. This configuration will ensure maximum quality and minimum file size. Most other websites are compatible with MP4, FLV, and AVI, so you can pick any of these.

I want to store and watch videos on my computer

If you’re interested in HD quality, go with MKV or M2TS and enjoy the best possible picture and sound quality. For regular-quality videos, we recommend you choose MP4, AVI, or WMV if you’re using a Windows PC or laptop; pick MOV or MP4 if you’re on a Mac.

I want to store and watch videos on my mobile device

Depending on the resolution of your phone or tablet and which formats it’s compatible with, choose MP4 or 3GP.

Now that you know which video format is the most appropriate for your planned use, you’re probably wondering how to convert your files to that format. We suggest you use Movavi Video Converter – a simple program that supports all the formats mentioned in the article as well as many more options to save your videos. Download the app to

  • convert between 180+ formats
  • save videos for specific mobile devices: just enter the brand and model, and the app will do the rest
  • convert videos like a pro using the ultrafast SuperSpeed mode
  • and so much more!

Movavi Video Converter

The ideal way to get your media in the format you need!

  • Convert video, audio, DVDs, and image files
  • Enjoy lightning-fast conversion without quality loss
  • Improve quality, adjust sound, trim and join files before converting
  • Save video and audio clips for easy mobile access

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